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Kiribati's former President Anote Tong says a proposal of a "Grand Compact for the Pacific" with Australia would be a difficult one for small island countries like his to turn down.
A leading security expert has proposed that Australia could allow permanent residency or even citizenship for people from Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga and Nauru — in return for Australia managing their vast, and valuable, exclusive economic zones.
The proposal by Professor John Blaxland of the Australian National University was one of several submissions made to a parliamentary inquiry into Australia's defence relations with the Pacific.
“I think it would be an arrangement which would be difficult for most of the Pacific countries named to turn down,” Tong told Pacific Beat.
But for the idea to work, Tong said it would have to be seen "as not an attempt to re-colonise" the countries.
Professor Blackland's submission said the Grand Compact would help countries deal with the "looming environmental catastrophe associated with global climate change, maritime, territorial and domestic security problems that are related to or exacerbated by great power contestation and inadequate governance."
It would be similar to the governing arrangement that New Zealand has with Cook Islands and Niue or the Compact of Free Association between the United States and Guam, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Tong, who was president of Kiribati for three years until 2016, said the concept of a 'Compact' is not new, but he felt it was important that it should be couched as a security arrangement, rather than an environmental or economic one, given the current geopolitical climate.
“This has been brought out much more strongly, [by the] engagement of China in the Pacific region,” Tong said.
A similar proposal last year from Australia's former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sparked heavy criticism from the then-Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, who labelled the idea as “imperial thinking” .
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